Charlie Kaufman is one of those rare talents who can stay away from cinema for what seems like an eternity only to return with such a confident manner that he instantly reclaims his title as one of the best talents working today.
Anomalisa is unlike anything you have seen before. It’s a stop motion R-rated movie that takes place pretty much in one location. It’s an examination of what is to love, a satire of our consumer based instincts, a desperate look at a mid life crisis and an all to human take on the nature of loneliness. Kaufman has provided us with some extraordinary work in the past but he may well have outdone himself here. An existentialist puppet drama that gives Kafka a run for his money Anamolisa may well be the most accomplished movie we will see in the coming twelve months.
The movie’s protagonist is Michael Stone. Stone is a motivational speaker to a niche audience of sales people and retail folk. He is spending the night before a keynote speech in the Fregoli hotel. We first meet Michael briefly on an airplane on his way to the hotel, he is reading a letter left to him by a heartbroken ex-lover, except something seems off with her voice, and her appearance- she looks and sounds similar to the person sat next to him on the plane. He then gets in a taxi to the hotel, the taxi driver is affable, he asks Michael how often he visits the city and asks him about his English accent. Except once again things he sounds like the people we have already met- their exchange feels like it has happened before, again and again. When Michael arrives at his hotel and goes to his room it becomes clear that Michael has some issues- we hear him speak to his wife and his son on the phone and once again, they sound the same.
Michael is stuck in a world where everyone is the same except for him- so what a relief it is when we hear a different voice pass by Michael’s doorway. It’s music to Michael’s ears and he chases the voice down to discover it belongs to Lisa. An average looking lady with hair that hides a scar on her face. Lisa is not perfect but her voice is different, to Michael, she is the most special person he has ever met. Michael uses his somewhat celebrity status to take Lisa for a drink and the two share a tender night together.
To talk anymore would be to give away too much of the plot. Anomalisa is a puzzle box- minimalist in it’s structure but full of more truths about the nature of our lives than perhaps any movie released in the few years. It is tragic, but it is also profound
Kaufman raised the money for the movie using Kickstarter and the film is a fine testament to the power of crowd funding. What really impresses with Anamolisa is the craftmanship. Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson have manipulated these puppets so much that they are uncanny- their habits feel human and as the film progresses it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that they’re not.
So why use puppets at all some may ask? It’s clearly a calculated decision by the pair, with one of the key reasons being to make the theme of loneliness even more emphatic. All the puppets share the same features, except for Michael, they all share the same voice, except for Micheal- not only does it add an eerie, almost nightmarish feel to the movie but it would have been near impossible to achieve in a live action movie. The voicework here is easily the best we have seen this decade in an animated feature and should really bring more attention to it as an art-form. David Thwelis voices Michael and gives his finest performance in recent memory, perhaps his whole career. His English accent instantly alienates Michael from the rest but the tone of his voice perfectly the joy and the misery of Michael’s one night in the Fregoli. Jeniffer Jason Leigh is also at her best voicing Lisa, notably when performing a Cyndi Lauper song- her voice carries an almost ethereal quality which juxtaposes that which we hear through out the rest of the movie.
The real highlight though is Tom Noonan as everybody else in the story. The slight shifts in the tone of his voice are genius, especially in the movie’s opening exchanges. He makes his characters both irritating and sympathetic depending on how and when we meet them. It’s a phenomenal achievement that the movie is dependent on.
Kaufman’s film does not end with clarity, it shifts your focus several times, even in it’s final few moments. It’s a special film, one that comes along once a decade if you’re lucky- it’s a film starring puppets yet it may well be the most human film we will see this year. Bravo Mr Kaufman, bravo.
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